What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?
The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move
That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”
Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.
― Hafiz, I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy
I first heard this poem years ago when my yoga teacher read it before class and again before shivasana. I was moved by its simple yet profound message then, and am moved by it still, whenever I come across it.
Clearly if these words move me so much, I must be the person who still thinks, “I have a thousand serious moves.” Even writing this, I have a rueful smile on my lips.
A regular yoga practice allows us to cultivate becoming expert observers of our minds; the patterns of thought we are mired in, the meanings we ascribe to circumstances, the beliefs we grip tenaciously. Through the consistency of returning to our mats, and “being in” our bodies, it becomes simpler to recognize we are persons with thoughts but we are not our thoughts, thus creating more space for “tripping over joy.”
We may take our yoga practice somewhat seriously, but we don’t necessarily need to take ourselves so seriously.
Joan R. Shepherd, FNP
PYR Board of Directors
Love Your Body: Yoga for Women class instructors: Morgan Howell, Billie Carroll, Izzy Shurte, and Kisha Hughes
Every Sunday at the PYR studio, women* in Richmond come to do something truly revolutionary: love their bodies. Despite all the negative messages they receive about how their bodies should look and how they should behave in them, women step into a safe place where treating your body with acceptance and loving-kindness is paramount.
PYR Ambassador Izzy Shurte created the Love Your Body: Yoga for Women class in 2016. “It is a radical act for a woman to proclaim love for her body,” she reflects. “I wanted to hold space for healing and reclamation to take place.”
As a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and as someone in recovery from an eating disorder herself, Izzy is intimately acquainted with women who feel at odds with their bodies.
She reached out to three other PYR Ambassadors: Billie Carroll, Morgan Howell, and Kisha Hughes to teach the class with her. “It’s lovely that even though we’re four different teachers there’s a similar energy and intention we all bring,” Morgan says. “What’s created through this class is larger than one particular instructor.”
Kisha places a special focus on making each class inviting, safe, and warm. She intends to “give students the opportunity to focus on simply existing without expectation.”
Billie also teaches Y12SR (Yoga for 12 Step Recovery) at the PYR studio and at Chesterfield County Jail. “I’ve had many women attend Y12SR class or Yoga of Recovery series to address their addictions, most saying that the Love Your Body class was the catalyst,” she says.
Billie often shares her own struggles with body dysmorphia in class. “I have heard other women my size say they can’t do yoga. I teach how to work with ‘our blessings.’”
Come see for yourself! Love Your Body: Yoga for Women meets every Sunday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. at the PYR studio (6517 Dickens Pl.). We invite you to come, be, and heal.
*Project Yoga Richmond is a trans and gender non-conforming inclusive space.
Project Yoga Richmond offers Y12SR, classes that combine yoga with 12-step recovery programs, as well as the latest research on trauma healing and neurobiology.
I have worked in the field of addiction medicine for a long time. Over the years, as I have grown in my knowledge of this field, I have also grown in my knowledge of yoga.
Depending on where my patients—who mostly find our clinic to detox off opioids, heroin, methadone, or alcohol—are in their stage of change, I offer yoga as an integral tool.
I have to be a little savvy about bringing up yoga. While it has clearly infiltrated western culture, many of the people with whom I work have ideas about yoga and do not see themselves wearing spandex and inhabiting a rubber mat for an hour.
But, I offer a nibble.
I introduce, for instance, the idea of becoming a witness to one’s experience or taking the risk of staying present for momentary discomfort. Or noticing the relentless and repetitive messages that appear on the movie screen of the mind, noticing the habitual reactions that accompany these messages, and the fierce impulse to escape the pain.
This is indeed the practice of yoga. As the 2nd Sutra of Patanjali states, “Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of the mind.” Or, in Sanskrit, “Yogas citta vrtti nirodha.”
Addiction has a lot to do with avoiding discomfort. Guiding a person to be at home with their own thoughts, physical sensations, and feelings is an imperative step for any successful recovery. A regular practice of yoga postures helps people bring presence to TEAMS (thoughts, emotions, associations, memories, and sensations) while staying rooted in the reality of intentional movements.
Project Yoga Richmond offers Y12SR, classes that combine yoga with 12-step recovery programs, as well as the latest research on trauma healing and neurobiology. This program serves people recovering from all manifestations of addiction, from behavioral addictions to substance abuse, and creates a safe place on the mat. Family members of people with addictions are also welcome. Teachers of this program receive certification to teach after completing proper training.
This aspect of programming for people with behavioral and substance use disorders is how I first became aware of PYR’s presence in Richmond. I have recommended it to my patients for years.
If you or a loved one is looking for another tool for your recovery toolbox, I heartily endorse the powerful programming offered at Project Yoga Richmond. The staff or any of the Board Members would be more than happy to answer your questions. Spandex not required.
Joan R. Shepherd, FNP
PYR Board of Directors
PYR Ambassador Izzy Shurte explains how she incorporates these two concepts into her practice
Two important Sanskrit terms that I use nearly constantly in my practice, in teaching and in life, are Abhyasa and Vairagya from Patanjalili’s Yoga Sutra 1.12 which states Abhyasa Vairagyabhyam Tannirodhah. Abhyasa is a word that means a practice, a discipline or study. Vairagya means non-attachment or disinclination. Tannirodhah is a composite of a couple of words that means to restrain or control and specifically restraining the turbulent turning of the mind.
On its face, this verse is a practical bit of instruction for meditation. Pick an Abhyasa, a technique or practice, and repeat it. Repetition or habit is another translation of Abhyasa. When the mind or body strays away from the practice, Vairagya (detach from the distraction), returning to the Abhyasa. This works well as a basic introduction to the skill of meditation, which requires lots of toggling back and forth between the skills of Abhyasa and Vairagya and results in mind states that are more settled and less surly.
This verse can also be broadly applied to skillful living. Moment to moment, it is helpful to have clarity regarding what our Abhyasa is. In other words, what are we cultivating or inviting into our lives? Moment to moment awareness of the direction we wish to travel can help us make choices that materialize our heart’s desire. Confusion around direction can create detours and suffering. With a clear understanding of what we are practicing, we can also filter out what is extraneous or even incompatible with what we want. Upon recognition that we are off course and closely tied to our Abhyasa, we have the power to let go, Vairagya, refocus and correct.
At the metaphorical level, contemplating these concepts acknowledges that at any given moment we are either moving in the direction of what we want…or doing something else. In order to cultivate and manifest what is in our heart (Abhyasa), we must be honest with ourselves about what is NOT compatible with that vision (Vairagya). We may need to clean house and let go of patterns that are currently draining us of time and energy and essentially taking up space where new more helpful patterns may emerge.
Anne-Marie, a former higher education administrator, began practicing at PYR shortly after retirement when she found herself with more time for a regular yoga practice. She recently shared why she chooses to devote her time and resources to PYR.
Why did you decide to practice at PYR?
Practicing yoga has fundamentally affected how I go about my day-to-day life. I like to think it’s in a kinder, gentler way. It soon became apparent to me that such a practice, such an outcome, just for yourself, is kind of selfish. There is no group, no person who can’t derive the benefits that yoga can give. I can afford a gym membership, and I can afford the time. But what about those who cannot?
How does PYR’s mission come into play?
Learning about PYR during this personal journey resonated with my sense of what I needed to give back from my own practice. I attend Mindful Movement on Thursdays. The class is made up of people with a wide range of physical and developmental abilities. While I participate in that class in a traditional way, every other person there is practicing in a way that benefits them. Their postures may look different, but there is no one who doesn’t come out feeling better about themselves in the world.
Why do you support PYR financially in addition to practice at the studio?
I support PYR through practice in the studio and at Saturday Salutations but that doesn’t adequately compensate the organization for what it’s doing to benefit other groups in the community. So as I looked at my ability to give above and beyond, it quickly became one of my preferred community organizations. An organization can have a wonderful mission and purpose but if beautiful staff and volunteers don’t center it, it won’t be genuine. You can’t help but love everyone at PYR. There’s a basic goodness and love that emanates.
Youth Programs: Up And Running
Stop for a moment and picture yourself in middle school…Are you wincing?
If you’re like most people, chances are you weren’t at your most calm, collected and confident. It’s a challenging time. Recently, studies have confirmed that social media usage increases students’ stress and anxiety levels, making it tougher than ever to focus and stay present.
This is why PYR seized the opportunity to bring the benefits of yoga to four schools this academic year: Brook Road Academy, Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School, Falling Creek Middle School and Binford Middle School. PYR Ambassadors provide yoga and mindfulness classes for students with a variety of needs, including students for whom English is a Second Language (classes include a Spanish-speaking interpreter) as well as students with special educational needs.
Kendra Robinson, Center Director for NextUp RVA at Elkhardt-Thompson explains, “So often we forget the trauma and stresses our students face. For them to learn to be in the moment and relax is a skill they can utilize not only in class, but at home, leading to an overall more healthy individual.”
PYR Ambassadors Keonna Knight and Sara Lovelace teach Elkhardt-Thompson’s yoga class in partnership with NextUp RVA. They are continually impressed by students’ honesty and openness when Keonna checks in each week at the outset of the class.
“Many of the students are experiencing emotions that we often label as negative,” Sara explains. “When a student responds saying that they are sad or bored, Keonna thanks them for sharing and lets them know that it’s okay to feel that way. I can feel how relieved they are. It’s a brief moment that has huge implications. It’s beautiful to witness.”
At this crucial developmental phase when students often feel dismissed, PYR’s Ambassadors validate their feelings and offer tools to cope. The very existence of PYR’s class acknowledges that students live complicated lives.
“Middle school is definitely a transitional time,” Sara remembers. “Your body is changing. Your mind is changing. You are waking up to more complicated ways of seeing the world. Yoga is an ideal tool for transitions because it forces us to stop and examine where we are at the moment.”
Every time you pay for your class at PYR or make a donation, you offer students in Richmond the time and space to examine their feelings and reduce their stress, leading to increased concentration, expanded creativity and more thoughtful decision-making.
Drug addiction, specifically to opioids, has increased dramatically in the last decade. Virginia alone has seen a 500% increase in drug-related deaths over the last seven years. In fact, hundreds of people find themselves incarcerated at Chesterfield County Jail as a result of addiction.
The staff and administration there recognize that addiction is a disease and not a crime, so they created the “Helping Addicts Recover Progressively” (HARP) program in 2016. They’ve had great success evidenced by a significant reduction in recidivism. Some inmates have even asked to continue their participation in the program after their release.
At Project Yoga Richmond we believe in the power of yoga as a public health tool. So we seized the unique opportunity to offer classes under the HARP program. Since 2017, PYR Ambassador Billie Carroll has led a weekly Yoga of 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR) class at Chesterfield County Jail. Y12SR is a relapse prevention program developed by Nikki Myers that combines a 12-step discussion meeting with an intentional yoga therapeutic practice for those with addictions or affected by the addictions of others.
Elysha Kim, Program Coordinator at the jail, explains how yoga fits naturally into the HARP program, “The physical body and mental health are tied so closely. Yoga is one of the few programs we offer that combines both.” Elysha suspects that the vast majority of those incarcerated at Chesterfield are facing drug-related charges.
“When we come to class it’s like a relief,” reflects Regina, a Y12SR participant. “We can talk about recovery, get peace and meditate. We feel better all weekend because we do yoga on Fridays. We leave…ourselves.”
As a yogi who has been in recovery for 17 years, Billie appreciates the opportunity to serve the community in this way.
“She relates to us as an addict,” explains Joy, another student. “Our issues are in our tissues. That’s what Billie always says. We don’t realize how much our stress and trauma remains in our bodies. The way she taught us to process that has been amazing.”
Students apply the therapeutic yoga techniques they learn in PYR’s Y12SR program to their lives outside of the community room where they meet. “Instead of being so angry all the time we learn how to think differently. How to act differently,” says Nari, whose first experience with yoga was in jail. “You can take on so much more after class.”
Ron, a student in the men’s class, says he uses a breathing technique called 4/3/7 (inhale for four counts, hold it for three, exhale for seven) to help him fall asleep. The women apply soothing techniques they learned in class, such as a butterfly hug and tapping methods, to calm down when they feel anxious.
Recently, a few of PYR’s male students began an inmate-led book club to deepen their practice. PYR donated copies of Meditations on the Mat by Rolf Gates and the men study it together on their own. “That was the biggest compliment to me,” says Billie. The participants’ enthusiasm for the program was evident in their willingness to share their experience when offered the opportunity.
When asked to reflect on his teacher, Dominic, a participant in the men’s class, says, “She pays attention to what we have to say.” He pauses, “I think she gets a lot out of it too.”
Dominic is right. Billie’s relationship with her students is symbiotic, reciprocal, spiritual and transcends the walls of the jail to include all of us at PYR. You support your programs like Y12SR each time you contribute for your studio class or make a donation. Your practice is their practice. We are all Project Yoga Richmond.
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